Mattie Ross has come to town and she’s not there for the coffee and “Grits”. The Coen brothers wonderful adaptation of the Charles Portis 1968 novel “True Grit” takes place in the post Civil War old west in the hart of Oklahoma just east of Oklahoma City in the desolate Choctaw region. True Grit is an adventure/drama story about a very young and intensely determined Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and contracted outlaw hunter Rooster Cogburn, a merciless, one eyed, grizzled, drunkard Deputy U.S. Marshal with a checkered past portrayed brilliantly by (Jeff Bridges) and their pursuit of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) the man who murdered Mattie’s father.
The story starts with Mattie (Steinfeld) arriving in Oklahoma City tasked with making arrangements for her murdered fathers body. We quickly learn that Mattie is not your typical child, “children should be seen and not heard” is not part of her makeup and this is prevalent in her clever negotiations with Colonel Stonehill (Dakin Matthewes) regarding compensation for her late father’s horses. With her fathers body and business in order Mattie is to return home but she has other reservations. Mattie wants justice for her fathers murder and that entails finding the man responsible for his murder, Tom Chaney (Brolin). To accomplish this Mattie attempts to hire the most merciless Deputy U.S. Marshal in town, Rooster Cogburn but he denies her request and sends Mattie on her way. While Mattie is not done with Rooster just yet, at her boarding house she makes the acquaintance of Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who has been on the trail of Chaney for months and is determined to bring him to Texas for trial. Mattie is not interested in Chaney being tried in Texas and dismisses LaBoeuf. Mattie returns to Rooster and he repeatedly censures her attempts to hire him but her persistence and cash in hand eventually trump Rooster’s rot-gut hangover and he begrudgingly takes the job with the agreement that Mattie joins him on the man hunt. The next morning after Rooster’s failed attempt to leave her behind Mattie realizes that Rooster and LaBoeuf have made a deal to track Chaney together and deliver him to Texas for trial and split the reward. This does not sit well with Mattie but the three of them head on their way to track the notorious Ned Pepper Gang (Ned Pepper played by Barry Pepper) and one unsavory gang member Tom Chaney. This movie is some what of a coming of age movie for the Mattie character as she endures the harsh reality of outlaw tracking and is witness to frequent vulgar displays of violence in her pursuit of justice.
While the old west setting and the “gather a posse” to track down the bad guys story line is by no means unique, the main actors gives believable life to their characters. Especially Steinfeld. While Mattie’s (Steinfeld) vernacular and grasp of the judicial system and accounting practices are mesmerizing and somewhat overbearing, Steinfeld gives herself to the character and the audience quickly becomes accustomed to her as-a-matter-of-fact candor. This quality and level of acting is impressive for a 14 year old and I’m sure casting directors are taking note of this talented young lady. The Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) character is the most complex with his criminal past, law man present mixed in with the patience of a degenerate alcoholic. Rooster is a troubled/weathered man and Bridges embodies this role. Whilst Rooster is as much of a monster as the bad guys, Bridges polished acting makes him somewhat lovable, (think Crazy Horse meets Jeremiah Johnson). Bridges also delivers a hand full of one-liners that have the audience laughing out loud. LaBoeuf (Damon) is portrayed much like the in the original movie, an out of place, oddball straight shooter Texas Ranger with an ego the size of Texas, like they say, “everything’s big in Texas”. Even though LeBoeuf’s role is intermittent, he shows up at key moments in the film and while he instigates a few pissing contests with Rooster, we find out what he’s made of by the end of the movie. The “Notorious Outlaw” Ned Pepper (B. Pepper) is an interesting character. He at first comes across as a reasonable man with a bit of a conscious. But reasonable or not, his true nature and intentions are fleshed out in his final scene. This move is about the pursuit of Tom Chaney, not Tom Chaney himself. The audiences attentions are focused on the journey and interaction of our three heroes. Tom Chaney played by Brolin has a short and convincing roll of a heartless, paranoid outlaw who is having a very, very bad day.
The cinematography is absolute Coen Brothers team perfection, deliberate camera angles and wide open encompassing backgrounds make for a very natural visual perspective. The location director obviously had fun with this movie, while we’re taken from town life through snow laden woods, mountain/canyon terrain and wide open range you never get an inkling that some of it may have been shot on a sound stage, due to the proper metering and blending of light with the fore and background. While the cast is colorful so is the makeup. From Rooster’s freezer-burn bloodvessely nose to Ned’s jigsawed teeth we are constantly reminded that most of these characters are rough and haggard. While this is a story about justice and revenge, creative dialog and properly timed editing make several violently intense moments comical which certainly adds character to the move.
I thoroughly enjoyed this move. While I’m not a western movie buff, I found this movie refreshing. The characters and story pull you in while the camera gives the audience a tour of the beautiful and rugged Oklahoma territory. This is my first must see movie of 2011.